ABSTAIN FROM MEAT
Forgiveness Sunday, 42 Martyrs of Amorion in Phrygia, Finding the Precious Cross by St. Helen, Hesychios the Wonderworker
ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE ROMANS 13:11-14; 14:1-4
Brethren, salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for God is able to make him stand.
The Lord said, "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
As we begin the Great Fast, the Church reminds us of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise. God commanded Adam to fast (Gen. 2:16), but he did not obey. Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and lost the life of blessedness, knowledge of God, and communion with Him, for which they were created. Both they and their descendents became heirs of death and corruption.
Let us consider the benefits of fasting, the consequences of disobedience, and recall our fallen state. Today we are invited to cleanse ourselves of evil through fasting and obedience to God. Our fasting should not be a negative thing, a mere abstention from certain foods. It is an opportunity to free ourselves from the sinful desires and urges of our fallen nature, and to nourish our souls with prayer, repentance, to participate in church services, and partake of the life-giving Mysteries of Christ.
At Forgiveness Vespers we sing: “Let us begin the time of fasting in light, preparing ourselves for spiritual efforts. Let us purify our soul, let us purify our body. As we abstain from food, let us abstain from all passion and enjoy the virtues of the spirit….”
During a war between the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus (829-842) and the Saracens, the Saracens managed to besiege the city of Ammoria (in Galicia in Asia Minor). As a result of treason on the part of the military commander Baditses, Ammoria fell, and forty-two of its generals were taken captive and sent off to Syria.
During the seven years of their imprisonment, their captors tried in vain to persuade them to renounce Christianity and accept Islam. The captives stubbornly resisted all their seductive offers and bravely held out against terrible threats. After many torments that failed to break the spirit of the Christian soldiers, they condemned them to death, hoping to shake the determination of the saints before executing them. The martyrs remained steadfast, saying that the Old Testament Prophets bore witness to Christ, while Mohammed called himself a prophet without any other witnesses to support his claim.
One of the captives, Theodore, had renounced the priestly office to become a general. His captors taunted him, “We know that you forsook the priestly office, became a soldier and shed blood in battle. You can have no hope in Christ, Whom you abandoned voluntarily, so accept Mohammed.” But the martyr replied, “You do not speak truthfully when you say that I abandoned Christ. Moreover, I left the priesthood because of my own unworthiness. Therefore, I must shed my blood for the sake of Christ, so that He might forgive the sins that I have committed against Him.”
The executioners took each one separately and led him off to be beheaded, then threw the bodies into the River Euphrates. In the service to them, these holy passion-bearers are glorified as: the “All-Blessed” Theodore, the “Unconquered” Callistus, the “Valiant” Constantine, the “Wondrous” Theophilus and “the Most Strong” Basoes. Saints Aetius (Aetitus) and Melissenus were also among the martyrs.
The betrayer Baditses did not escape his shameful fate. The enemy knew that it is impossible to trust a traitor, and so they killed him.
The Holy Empress Helen uncovered the Precious Cross and Nails of the Lord at Jerusalem in 326.
At the beginning of the reign of Saint Constantine the Great (306-337), the first Roman emperor to recognize Christianity, he and his pious mother Saint Helen decided to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. They also planned to build a church on the site of the Lord’s suffering and Resurrection, in order to reconsecrate and purify the places connected with the Savior’s death and Resurrection from the foul taint of paganism.
The empress Helen journeyed to Jerusalem with a large quantity of gold. Saint Constantine wrote a letter to Patriarch Macarius I (313-323), requesting him to assist her in every possible way with her task of the restoring the Christian holy places.
After her arrival in Jerusalem, the holy empress Helen began to destroy all the pagan temples and reconsecrate the places which had been defiled by the pagans.
In her quest for the Life-Creating Cross, she questioned several Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful. Finally, an elderly Hebrew named Jude told her that the Cross was buried beneath the temple of Venus. Saint Helen ordered that the pagan temple be demolished, and for the site to be excavated. Soon they found Golgotha and the Lord’s Sepulchre. Not far from the spot were three crosses, a board with the inscription written by Pilate (John 19:19), and four nails which had pierced the Lord’s Body.
Now the task was to determine on which of the three crosses the Savior had been crucified. Patriarch Macarius saw a dead person being carried to his grave, then he ordered that the dead man be placed upon each cross in turn. When the corpse was placed on the Cross of Christ, he was immediately restored to life. After seeing the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Cross had been found. With great joy the empress Helen and Patriarch Macarius lifted the Life-Creating Cross and displayed it to all the people standing about.
The Holy Hieromartyr Conon lived in Iconium (Asia Minor). After he became a widower, he went to a monastery with his son. Because of his devout life the saint was granted help from above. He cast out devils, he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and preached Christ among the pagans, converting many.
Reports of him reached the governor Dometian, a persecutor of Christians. Saint Conon was brought to trial and they ordered him to offer sacrifice to idols, but since he would not, he was handed over for torture. The seventeen-year-old son of the martyr, Deacon Conon, was also brought to trial.
After persuasion failed to make him renounce the True Faith, both father and son were subjected to cruel tortures. They were stripped and laid on a red-hot cot, they were drenched with hot oil, they were thrown into a cauldron with boiling tin, sulfur and tar, they were suspended upside down and scorched with a choking smoke. Preserved by God, the martyrs remained unharmed.
The irate torturers then resorted to a horrible way to destroy the preachers: sawing them in two with a wooden saw. Learning of this sentence, the saints asked time to pray and they cried out to the Lord, “We give thanks to You, O Lord, for permitting us to suffer for Your Name! We beseech You to grant peace to Your Church, put its persecutors to shame, strengthen and increase those who believe in You, grant us to come to You, and give peace unto our souls.”
The Voice of God was heard from above, calling the holy sufferers. Having signed themselves with the Sign of the Cross, the holy martyrs gave up their souls to the Lord. At once, there was an earthquake, and all the pagan temples in the city collapsed.
Monks secretly buried the bodies of the martyrs at the monastery where the saints had labored in asceticism during life. This occurred during the reign of Aurelian in the years 270-275. The relics of the holy martyrs were later transferred to Italy, to the city of Acerno (Campania).
Saint Arcadius from his youth devoted himself to monastic efforts. The saint struggled on the island of Cyprus during the time of the emperor Constantine the Great (306-337). He was the teacher of the holy Martyrs Julian the Physician and Eubolos, executed under Julian the Apostate (361-363). Bewailing the martyric death of his disciples and having consigned their bodies to the earth, Saint Arcadius soon departed to the Lord.
The “Blessed Heaven” Icon of the Mother of God is on the iconostasis of the Moscow Archangel cathedral in the Kremlin. Previously, this icon was at Smolensk and brought to Moscow by Sophia, daughter of the Lithuanian prince Vitovt, when she became the wife of Prince Basil of Moscow (1389-1425).
On the icon, the Mother of God is depicted in full stature, with a scepter in Her right hand. On Her left arm is the Divine Infant, and both of them are crowned. Certain people also call this icon of the Mother of God “What Shall we call Thee?”
This icon is also commemorated on the Sunday of All Saints.
The wonderworking Czestochowa Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos is to be found in a Roman Catholic monastery at Yasna Gora near the city of Czestochowa, Petrov Province. It is believed to be one of the seventy icons painted by the holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke (October 18). Tradition says that the icon was taken from Jerusalem when the Romans conquered the city in the year 66, and was hidden in a cave near Pella. The icon was given to Saint Helen (May 21) when she visited the Holy Land in 326, and she brought it back to Constantinople with her.
Starting in the eighth century the icon traveled to various places, including Galicia, Bavaria, and Moravia. Prince Leo, who founded the city of Lvov, brought the icon to Russia and placed it in the fortress of Belz. There many miracles took place before the holy icon.
Prince Vladislav of Opolsk acquired the icon when the Poles captured southwestern Russia. At the time that Vladislav ruled in Poland, the Tatars invaded Russia and soon appeared before the gates of the fortress of Belz. The prince ordered the icon to be placed atop the city walls as the Tatars began their siege of the fortress. Blood began dripping from the icon where it had been struck by an arrow or some other projectile. Those who witnessed it were fearfully amazed at the sight. The Tatars began to retreat when a dark haze covered them, and many of them died.
Following this miraculous deliverance, Prince Vladislav planned to take the icon to Siesia and to place it in his castle at Opolsk. As preparations for the transfer were being made, Vladislav was overcome with an inexplicable fear. He began to pray before the holy icon, and that night he was told in a vision to take the icon to Yasna Gora near Czestochowa. Vladislav built a monastery at Yasna Gora in 1382 and gave the icon to an order of Roman Catholic monks.
Many years later, followers of John Hus attacked Czestochowa and plundered the monastery. When they attempted to carry the Czestochowa Icon away in a cart, the horses refused to move from the spot, held back by some invisible power. One of the Hussites became angry and threw the icon onto the ground, while another stabbed the face of the Virgin with his sword. The first man was struck dead, and the hand of the second man shriveled up.
The other invaders also suffered punishment from God. Some of them died on the spot, while others became blind. Although many of the monastery’s treasures were stolen by the Hussites, the wonderworking Czestochowa Icon was left behind.
King Carl X Gustav of Sweden occupied most of Poland in the seventeenth century, and his forces remained virtually undefeated until they fought a battle near Yasna Gora and the monastery where the icon was kept. With the help of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Poles were able to overcome the Swedes and end the war in 1656. At Lvov, King Jan Casimir officially decreed that Mother of God was the Queen of Poland, and that the nation was under her protection.
Many miracles have been worked by the Czestochowa Icon, and are recorded in a book which is kept at the Czestochowa monastery. Copies of the icon are found in many Orthodox and Roman Catholic monasteries. Some of these copies are venerated in the village of Pisarevkain in the Volhynia Province (June 29 and September 8), at Verhnaya Syrovatka in the Kharkov Province, at Tyvrov in the Vinits Province (Holy Spirit day), in the Kazan Cathedral at Saint Petersburg, and in several other places.